- Socialization is the critical stage of development for a puppy.
- Puppies learn important skills from their littermates.
- Good breeders carefully expose young pups to new people and experiences.
You’re getting a puppy, and you can’t wait to bring home that adorable bundle of fur. You don’t want to miss one minute of your new baby’s puppyhood.
But wait. Bringing home a puppy who is too young can affect the behaviors your dog will have for the rest of his life – and not necessarily in a good way.
So what is the ideal age for a puppy to be when you welcome him into your home? There are different opinions, as well as a variety of factors, that influence the answer to this question. However, most veterinarians and breeders would put the optimum age to bring home a puppy somewhere between 8-to-10 weeks old. Here’s why.
A primary factor in choosing when to send a puppy to a new home is the socialization period. According to veterinarian and behaviorist Dr. Sally Foote, the socialization period in puppies typically lasts from between 6 and 12-to-14 weeks of age.
During this time, puppies are learning the norms of the world around them, and they develop attitudes and behaviors they’ll keep as adult dogs. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior says this is when puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli, and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over stimulation.
Socialization of a puppy during this period has a huge effect on the behaviors, confidence, and attachments the dog will have throughout his lifetime. It’s also the time when the puppy will form a strong bond with the humans taking care of him.
Learning From Littermates
Puppies also have what some animal behaviorists call a primary socialization period, which begins as they become more aware of the world around them at 3-to-5 weeks of age. Through their mother and littermates, puppies begin to learn appropriate play behaviors and how to communicate with and relate to other dogs.
They also learn rudimentary impulse control and bite inhibition from the feedback of their siblings and mother.
Research has shown that puppies removed from their litters very early are more likely to display problems in behavior and temperament when they’re grown, including being fearful, aggressive, or anxious; guarding their food and toys; and being highly reactive and more difficult to train.
On the other hand, puppies that stay with their littermates for too long may start to develop dominant or submissive behaviors that can also lead to problems.
Breeder’s Puppy Care
Before buying a dog, it’s important to make sure you are comfortable with the breeder‘s decisions about your puppy. Find out how the breeder plans to handle your puppy in terms of weaning, socialization, and timing for sending the pup home with you.
Breeder of working Shetland Sheepdogs Claire Apple prefers to keep her puppies in her home during the socialization period. Her puppies go to their working or sport homes at 12 weeks of age. She does this so she can control the experiences her puppies have during their fear and socialization periods and can begin the focused training they need for their future homes.
Early socialization of puppies should be done thoughtfully. Good breeders slowly introduce their puppies to children and other adults, car rides, crate time, noises, surfaces, grooming tools, solid food, the outdoors, and they give them individual attention. They enable puppies to enjoy new experiences, recover from startling situations, and learn to enjoy being handled, while beginning to make connections with humans.
When the puppies go to their new homes, breeders can coach their puppy owners on how to socialize properly and safely, without overwhelming or traumatizing them.
Weaning is another factor in determining when a pup can leave the litter. “Most pups begin the gradual switch from their mother’s milk to solid food anywhere from 3-to-5-weeks-old,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer.
“This process can take a couple of weeks, and it may be a little stressful for the pups. Puppies should not be sent to their homes until they are happily eating on their own. Puppies that are prevented from suckling for food and for comfort can display insecure behaviors later in life.”
Some states have laws specifying age requirements, usually at least 8 weeks, before puppies can be sold to the public. About 15 of the 28 states make it unlawful for any person to sell an underage puppy.
The laws often exclude nonprofit animal shelters or humane societies from these limitations. For many states, the laws only apply to pet dealers, retail pet stores, or pet breeders.
Different Dogs, Different Situations
Some breeders of toy breeds may choose to keep the pups past 8 weeks because these puppies are so tiny and fragile.
If a pup will have to travel a long distance to its new home, especially on an airplane, the breeder may wait until the puppy has received most vaccinations and is better able to handle the physical and emotional stress of traveling.
One experienced dog trainer and expert on dog development suggested that the optimum age for a puppy to go to its new owner is about 8-to-9-weeks, when the pup is ready to develop a strong bond. However, the same trainer said that the puppy could also benefit from remaining with its littermates a little longer if the breeder is dedicating lots of time and energy to socializing and training the pup.
Bottom line: Talk to your breeder, your veterinarian, and your dog trainer. If they tell you it’s best to wait a week or two longer for the healthy development of your new companion – you’ll be all the more prepared when the big day comes.